A teenager who ran away with the circus is now branching out to become ring-mistress of her own Big Top project.
Former Astley Cooper School pupil Sarah-jane Eyles, 19, abandoned her studies at West Herts College for the a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train with one of the biggest names in the circus industry – Zippo’s.
The talented performer, who had already perfected dangerous and awe-inspiring stunts such as a steel chain and straitjacket escape and trapeze acts, funded her own place on the four-month circus academy through busking in London’s Covent Garden.
She also received a bursary from the famous travelling show providers.
Sarah-jane, who goes by the stage name SJ Lavelle, said: “I ended up mainly raising the money myself through street-performing.
“The circus academy was absolutely amazing, it was horrible having to leave. I really miss it, and it was definitely worth all the stress I went through to get there.
“I learned lots of new skills and tricks including one which I believe is only performed by 10 women across Europe at the moment.”
The stunt in question is the slack ropes – based on the same principle as tight-rope walking but, as the name suggests, the wire is slackened and the trick is therefore much more difficult.
Since graduating from the academy in September, the escapologist has been involved in many projects including Scarenation’s most recent Halloween event – the Factory of Fear at Frogmore Paper Mill in Apsley.
She is now embarking on a new project with Scarenation co-director Mark Foot – their own touring circus.
Sarah-jane, formerly of Chaulden but now living in Watford, said: “I will be part of a brand-new circus from February next year. It is called Chaplin’s Circus and is vintage, 1920s-themed. It is a whole new take on any circus show you’ve seen before.
“We hope to tour it around London and hopefully the rest of the UK – I have lots of plans. We are all street performers and it will be great, it is a whole new experience.”
The college drop-out says she has no regrets about leaving conventional education as she had dreamed of a life in the circus since she was a tot who hid under ringside seats at a travelling show. She said: “I now have more costumes than actual clothes, and I haven’t had a day off since before I started the circus academy in May. This just doesn’t feel like work to me, I enjoy what I’m doing and it is my life.”
> See Sarah-jane’s shocking straitjacket stunt filmed in March in the video above.